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July 3, 2011

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Spain's summer delights

What's the perfect summer red wine? For me the best summer red wines should have generous fruit but also be fresh with moderate tannins and good acidity. The wines should also be easy-drinking and affordable. A little spice is also nice and the reds should match the types of food we like to enjoy in the summer. The wines should also be suitable for chilling as I prefer summer reds to be served at about 14-16 degrees Celsius, certainly not room temperature. Here I'll focus on different styles of Spanish wines that are ideal for summer drinking.

Don Quixote's wines

Some call it the greatest book ever written. "Don Quixote" is actually two books written a decade apart (1605 and 1615) by author Miguel de Cervantes that lament the lost ideal of chivalry. The full name of the book is "The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha" with farce quite prominent in the first book and a more philosophical tone in the second. Truth be told, for many years connoisseurs from around the world considered the wines from La Mancha a farce themselves as quantity was emphasized over quality. However, over the past 15 years the quality of wines from La Mancha has improved dramatically while the prices of most of the wines have remained quite low. The abundant sunshine and arid climate of the plains of La Mancha make ripe and fruity wines with the better producers also using earlier picking and more careful wine-making techniques to keep the wines fresh.

Some La Mancha producers with budget-beating, quality wines available in Shanghai are Don Rozas with two super value wines, a smooth typically Spanish Tempranilla and a modern-style Shiraz; Castillo de Vides offering excellent value Tempranillo, Monastrell and Cabernet Sauvignon reds and the giant Felix Solis with many styles of wines from inexpensive to premium. May I suggest that on a lazy summer afternoon you pick up a copy of Cervantes' great novel and enjoy it with a few glasses of slightly chilled red wine from La Mancha. If you have the munchies then you'll be happy to know that these wines go quite nicely with popular Chinese snacks such as beef jerky and duck tongues.

Mountain freshness

Located in Castilla y Leon in the north of Spain, Bierzo is one of 10 designated DO wine regions in this large quite mountainous region.

Over the past century or so, Mencia wines produced here were only known to locals and tended to be light, undistinguished daily drinking wines. The proclivity of the grape to be high-yield was not tempered by winemakers and as a result the wines were insipid. Only recently has the potential of this grape been discovered by serious, quality-minded producers.

Discovery of some of Spain's oldest vines and a commitment to lower yields and better winemaking have resulted in some of Spain's most exciting red wines. These startlingly fresh and lively red wines have recently won many awards and are now well-known by wine writers and professionals in Europe but unfortunately remain relatively unknown in China. There are good reasons why the anonymity of Mencia wines in the China market should change. The intensity of fruit flavors and acidity make these fresh and stimulating red wines perfect for the summer. The better Mencia wines often have abundant red fruit, wildflower, herbs, licorice and intriguing earthy aromas and flavors. These qualities along with their freshness also make them remarkably food-friendly including an ability to pair nicely with many popular Chinese dishes. Heavier, oak-aged Mencia wines are lovely companions to hearty meat dishes like Yunnan-style chili beef with crispy fried mint leaves and Shanghai-style braised pork with red rice paste. The good acidity and freshness of some of the lighter Mencia wines means they can even be paired with some more weighty fish dishes like Shanghai-style yellow fish in soy sauce. In the neighboring hills and mountains to Mencia vineyards also comes one of the world's great hams, Iberico ham. With it now available in Shanghai, a wonderful summer evening can be had enjoying slivers of Iberico ham with Mencia wines.


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